'We can't get complacent': Biden urges vaccinations as Delta variant threat rises

·National Correspondent
·4-min read

WASHINGTON — For a politician who was once known for meandering and going off message, President Biden has been remarkably consistent in his coronavirus messaging, which for several months now has consisted mostly of two words: Get vaccinated.

He repeated that message again on Tuesday in pandemic-related remarks from the White House. “We can’t get complacent,” Biden said. “Now, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family and the people you care about the most is get vaccinated.”

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
President Biden speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In many ways, the vaccination effort has been a remarkable success. Infection rates have plummeted in recent months and are a small fraction of what they were in January, at the peak of the pandemic’s third wave. With more than 157 million Americans fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has one of the best inoculation rates in the world.

But the very need for Biden to continue to make the case underscores the prevalent belief that plenty of work remains, especially in the face of the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus. The growing prevalence of that variant should “cause everybody to think twice,” Biden said, “and it should cause reconsideration especially in young people who may have thought that they didn’t have to be vaccinated — didn’t have to worry about it.”

People in their 20s have been one pocket of resistance, which may explain why Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top medical adviser, was recently promoting vaccination on TikTok and YouTube, social media platforms popular with younger people.

About 7 million adolescents have been vaccinated, according to the CDC. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Biden has enjoyed high approval ratings for his handling of the pandemic, even as conservatives criticize him for not reopening segments of society quickly enough. Without the widespread ability of vaccines (which were developed in part by the Trump administration), any reopening would have been much more fraught.

A person gets the COVID-19 vaccine at the 2021 NYC Pride Fest near Union Square on June 27, 2021 in New York City. This year's NYC Pride March theme is 'The Fight Continues.’ (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
A person gets the COVID-19 vaccine at the 2021 NYC Pride Fest in New York City on June 27. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

On July 4, Biden said the nation was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” The White House marked the holiday with an in-person celebration — notably not conducted over Zoom calls. At the same time, the president failed to meet his own goal of having 70 percent of American adults vaccinated by the holiday weekend, in what would have been a symbolic victory for his young administration.

Biden had declared June a “national month of action” intended to meet that goal, rolling out a bevy of initiatives and incentives meant to encourage people to get their shots. Many states ramped up efforts of their own, offering alcohol, cash and other such enticements. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice asked people to get vaccinated for Babydog, his pet English bulldog.

“She wants you vaccinated so badly,” the governor said.

But by June, vaccination rates were already falling — and had, in fact, been falling for weeks, making such efforts both necessary and challenging. On April 10, for example, 4.6 million people were vaccinated in the United States. On July 2, with the long weekend beginning, only 657,000 people received coronavirus shots.

The holiday weekend is over, but the work continues. Even as the pandemic has abated in high-vaccination states like California and New York, infection rates are rising in states like Missouri and Arkansas. Some have called for a return of mask mandates, though Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky have both said that vaccinated people need not wear masks.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the COVID-19 response, focusing on an update from federal officials, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 18, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on COVID-19 in March. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)

Speaking to Yahoo News late last month, Walensky said that new lockdowns would likely not be necessary in the near future. But she pointedly added that she could make “no promises.”

Biden’s task is to keep the pandemic in the forefront of the national consciousness, even as pre-pandemic routines resume. Over the weekend, some 10 million passengers were screened by the Transportation Security Administration. By contrast, only 87,500 people were screened on April 13, 2020, as the nation locked down and society froze. Now children are back in summer camp and some white-collar workers are back in offices. Bars and restaurants are packed in major cities. The Boss is back on Broadway.

Amid these encouraging signs, it’s easy to forget that more than 10,000 people are getting infected with the coronavirus daily, with close to 300 daily deaths having been recorded ahead of the July 4 holiday.

So even as Biden praised the vaccination effort on Tuesday, calling it “one of the greatest achievements in American history,” he qualified that celebratory assertion with a warning. “But our fight against this virus is not over,” he said.

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